A tugboat captain was killed in a fall from a ladder aboard his vessel in the Houston Ship Channel, authorities said. An autopsy revealed that he had taken two prescription drugs that cause unsteadiness.
Charles Langston Cloudy, 54, died when he fell about 7 feet from an internal stairwell down to the galley of Jane L, the Harris County Medical Examiner said. The accident happened at about 2100 on Oct. 8, 2009, at a dock in Channelview.
Cloudy, a licensed master of towing vessels, was off watch at the time. Witnesses had seen him on the 57-foot vesselâ€™s second level moments before his body was discovered face-down on the galley level with catastrophic injuries to his head.
â€œThe crew arrived back into the bay to dock the tugboat … and they were waiting on a barge to go back out,â€ the medical examinerâ€™s investigator wrote. Cloudy â€œhad climbed up the inner stairwell to the bunk level.â€
One of the four crewmen saw Cloudy and â€œthought (he) was going to his bunk to read a book,â€ the investigatorâ€™s report stated. Instead, five minutes later, he noticed Cloudy â€œlying prone on the floor of the galley with blood around his head … next to a metal ladder that was attached to the wall.â€
Cloudy, of Hemphill, Texas, had been an employee of Houston-based Hardâ€™s Marine Service Ltd. for 15 years. A Hardâ€™s Marine official emphasized that its crews are instructed to â€œface the stairs when climbing up or down the stairs,â€ according to the investigatorâ€™s report. Cloudy was wearing sneakers.
The autopsy showed that Cloudy had at least two prescription drugs in his system. One was alprazolam, a treatment for depression-related anxiety and panic attacks known by the brand name Xanax. The other was hydrocodone, an opiate-based cough suppressant sometimes known as Vicodin. Each can cause dizziness, sleepiness and unsteadiness.
Cloudy also possessed in his bunk the prescription medications enalapril maleate, which treats high blood pressure, the cardiovascular drug atenolol and the cholesterol medicine simvastatin, known as Zocor. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 235 pounds. With a body mass index of 35.7, he qualified as medically obese.
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the casualty, said Lt. j.g. Denny Ernster, a spokesman for Sector Houston-Galveston. Ernster would not disclose the year of Cloudyâ€™s last license renewal or which medical conditions and drugs Cloudyâ€™s doctor listed at that time. He also declined to comment on whether the Coast Guard should have renewed the license.
The cause of death was blunt trauma to the head with skull fractures and brain injuries. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.